LOS ANGELES -- Manager Don Mattingly said before Wednesday's game that Clayton Kershaw was on a 150-pitch limit.
"He should be able to go five or six with that," said a joking manager, whose mood was lighter now that Tuesday's loss had sunk in a little more.
A few hours later, Kershaw would go on to allow the Giants just three hits and one run in eight spectacular innings to give the Dodgers a 5-1 victory. It took him just 111 pitches, the last being a 74-mph curveball that got Brandon Crawford looking for Kershaw's eighth strikeout.
Aside from maybe pride, the Dodgers didn't have much to play for Wednesday, but Kershaw sure did.
The lefty entered his final start one of the leading candidates for the National League Cy Young Award and likely needed one last shutdown performance to prove his worthiness to voters.
Like he has done all season, Kershaw delivered.
It may not have been the must-win game Los Angeles had hoped for, and both managers had pulled their regulars by the end of the game, but Kershaw dazzled yet again.
Kershaw walked off to a standing ovation from the crowd and tossed a souvenir ball into the stands after recording his 229th strikout of the season, which left him one short of R.A. Dickey for the NL lead.
He finished the season 14-9 with a Major League-best 2.53 ERA, with most of his numbers aside from the win total comparable to his Cy Young Award-winning season last year.
"It was all right," Kershaw said about his season. "It was fine. I have some things to work on, some things to better on. If we make the playoffs next year, it'll be a great season."
The 24-year-old gave up just one run while striking out 18 in 16 innings in his last two starts of 2012. Kershaw has given up 15 earned runs in 87 1/3 innings dating back to July 29, which includes a stretch in September when he dealt with a right hip impingement. He no longer is expected to need offseason hip surgery and he again brushed off questions about it.
Mattingly said he would 100 percent vote for Kershaw to repeat as the Cy Young winner, but he doesn't expect him to win without the gaudy victory total.
"He was really the same guy as last year when he won the Cy Young," Mattingly said. "He's as good as anybody in the game."
On Wednesday, it took a little offense on the pitcher's part to end the season on a high note, sending the Dodgers into the offseason having won seven out of their last eight.
After giving up a run in the fourth on a Buster Posey groundout that scored Dodgers-killer Marco Scutaro, Kershaw tied the game with a two-out single to bring home Luis Cruz.
San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong had thrown 5 2/3 no-hit innings before rookie Tim Federowicz singled up the middle for his first hit of the season. Cruz had reached on an error to start the rally and break up Vogelsong's perfect-game bid.
The Dodgers took the lead an inning later when Andre Ethier doubled and scored on a single by Adrian Gonzalez, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games. Rookie Alex Castellanos added an insurance run in the eighth with his first Major League homer and Juan Rivera followed with a two-run homer.
"Clayton's hit was a huge hit," Mattingly said. "It really kind of gets us even and then we were able to scratch a couple there."
The team now gets ready for a long offseason after a bizarre year that saw the Dodgers jump out to a commanding division lead early in the season before injuries forced Mattingly to mix and match with his lineup many nights.
Once the team was healthy again, the Dodgers' new ownership flexed its financial muscle at the Trade Deadline and revamped the roster. A month later, it pulled off a historic trade with Boston that had many crowning Los Angeles the favorite in the National League.
The Dodgers' offense disappeared many nights, but they remained in the race until game No. 161, which was lost in a heartbreaker.
With Tuesday's loss still fresh, the players still were having a hard time wrapping their heads around the season.
"It's a little confusing," outfielder Matt Kemp said. "We played so good at the end. You kind of wish you could have pulled off a couple more games to be in the playoffs with all the rest of these guys. We ended the season strong and hopefully we can be a little more consistent next year and not have to worry about winning one or two games to get into the playoffs."
Alex Angert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.